Cortana, Microsoft's virtual assistant technology included with the Windows 10 operating system, is being reined in, the company announced yesterday.
Like Siri on Apple's iOS devices, users can call on Cortana to search the Web for sport scores, weather forecasts and answers to a variety of questions. As the Windows 10 user base has grown—270 million devices are running the OS at last count—Microsoft has discovered that Cortana has been taken in unintended directions, resulting in what the company claims is an unreliable user experience.
"Some software programs circumvent the design of Windows 10 and redirect you to search providers that were not designed to work with Cortana," Ryan Gavin, general manager of Microsoft Search and Cortana, said in a statement. In particular, they can interrupt some of Cortana's task completion and personalized search capabilities, he said.
In response, Microsoft is locking down the Cortana search experience.
Betting that no one likes a flaky assistant, virtual or otherwise, the company has taken steps to refocus Cortana's attention. Gavin said that "to ensure we can deliver the integrated search experience designed for Windows 10, Microsoft Edge will be the only browser that will launch when you search from the Cortana box," which appears next to the Start menu icon.
Wasting little time, Microsoft quickly followed up on its word.
As recently as this morning, Cortana would display Bing search results in a user's preferred Web browser, or Google Chrome in this writer's case. Now, while responding to a spoken or typed question that requires a Web search, Cortana will open up the Edge browser instead.
The change doesn't extend to the rest of Windows 10, Gavin noted. Users can still set their own default browsers using the operating system's default app manager and select their favored search engine within their Web browser's customization options, he affirmed.
Microsoft isn't the only company facing challenges with commercializing its digital personal assistant technology.
Last week, it was revealed that Apple had settled a 2012 Siri patent lawsuit for $24.9 million, which will be paid to Dynamic Advances, a subsidiary of the Marathon Patent Group. The legal battle stems from a voice-activated app technology patent issued to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., four years before Siri first appeared in the iPhone 4S. Apple is immediately paying Marathon $5 million, with the rest to follow after several conditions are satisfied.
Meanwhile, in preparation for this summer's highly anticipated Anniversary Update for Windows 10, Cortana is gaining some new Office-related functionality.
A new Windows Insider preview build (14332) released this week enables users to search Office 365 content with Cortana. After linking their Office 365 work or school accounts with Cortana's notebook, users can ask the assistant to find files stored on OneDrive for Business and SharePoint, as well as emails, calendar events and contacts. Also included are tweaks to the Cortana Reminders interface.